A friend of mine was recently approached by her 16-year-old son with an interesting request – to take his girlfriend on vacation with them this summer. They were planning a 10-hour road trip, followed by a week of camping; it wasn’t going to be expensive and far from luxurious. He wanted to know if she could sleep in the extra twin bunk in their trailer and just “hang” with them for a week at the lake.


So, inevitably, she turned to me and asked, “Well, what would you say?” Gulp. I honestly had no idea.

I tried to put myself in her shoes and immediately, a number of thoughts popped into my head…by inviting the girlfriend along, was I somehow promoting this teen romance? Was our family ready to welcome this girl in like part of the family? How affectionate would they be in front of us? What if they had a fight?

These are exactly the types of questions you need to think and talk about before extending the invite, according to Julie Freedman-Smith of Calgary-based Parenting Power.

Take the time to really think this through, and don’t be pressured by your teenager who may insist this is the only way he or she can make it through this “dreaded” family vacation.

Be aware that by saying yes, you could be making this teenage romance a little more important than it needs to be at the tender age of 16. 

Having said that, there could also be benefits to bringing along a girlfriend or boyfriend – it is obviously someone your child really enjoys spending time with. Practically speaking, it can also be helpful if you have children of very diverse ages.

“In many, many ways this is no different than taking any of your kids’ friends on a trip,” says Freedman-Smith.  “The reality is this extra person is not coming along for a romantic adventure, they’re coming along to be a friend for your son or daughter.”

But, at the same time, you shouldn’t be naive.

“It would be unrealistic to expect that there would be no affection, whether public or private,” says Freedman-Smith. “Yeah, there may be kissing, but they’d be kissing when they’re at home anyway.”

While one family might enjoy the idea of having an extra person along  (in this case a girlfriend), other families treat vacation time as sacred. And make no mistake…once you bring an extra person, it is no longer considered a family vacation because chances are you may not be as relaxed or casual as you would normally be.

For this to work, it’s about setting boundaries as to what you are comfortable with and clearly communicating those boundaries to the teenagers.

Here are some things you need to think about and discuss BEFORE taking a girlfriend/boyfriend on vacation with you:

  • How solid is this relationship? Have they been dating for a year…or less? Just as you wouldn’t invite a friend that your son had just met, you likely wouldn’t invite a girlfriend who’s only been in the picture for a short time.
  • Accommodations – where will everyone sleep? Will everyone have their own bed and/or private changing area?
  • How much “alone” time are they allowed? Set very specific curfews and guidelines for outings they will do together.
  • Emphasize that they are still expected to take part in family activities and interact with siblings.
  • PDA – is public display of affection ok with your family? Discuss this ahead of time and think about how your husband and siblings will react if they see hand holding, snuggling or kissing.
  • The Sex Talk – have a very frank and open discussion about whether they are sexually active. If they are, make sure you cover topics such as condoms, STI’s and saying no. (This is a conversation you should already be having with your teen)
  • Conflict resolution – what happens if they have a fight? It may be as simple as allowing them to have time apart to cool off, but you may also be called upon to intervene or facilitate a discussion.
  • Who will pay? Discuss with the other parents who will pay  for flight, gas, hotel, meals, etc. You may also want to suggest a recommended amount of spending money.
  • Exit plan – Work with the other parents to come up with a back-up plan if your visitor gets sick or simply wants to go home. Figure out how they will get there and who will pay.

In the end, my friend did end up taking her son’s girlfriend along for their trip. They’d been dating for 8 months and they felt confident that there wouldn’t be any squabbles or inappropriate behavior.

It turns out, this was going to be the only trip she was able to take this summer since both of her parents work full-time. They did have an extra bed in the trailer and she got along great with the younger siblings. So, in this particular case, it was a win-win for all.

Clearly, this is a very personal issue and what is right for one family might not be right for another. I would love to hear your thoughts on this!

If you ever have a sticky parenting issue you need help with, check out Parenting Power – my pal Julie will even take your questions via email.

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Author Michelle

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • beth says:

    You are asking for trouble by having and promoting this type of relationship on a family vacation.

  • Michelle says:

    Hi Beth, I can understand why some parents may feel that way. Do you care to elaborate on what you mean when you say “trouble?”

  • Louise says:

    Hi Michelle – I think it could be a lot of fun – providing that all the brothers and sisters are compatible with their guest and it would be quite a novelty to have someone with you who has never visited the vacation spot and this would put a totally new light on the vacation; and also everyone would be on their best behaviour. You never know unless you try it – as you noted in your article that everyone knows the rules, and pray for sunny weather.

  • Michelle says:

    There will be differences of opinion on this subject. Be prepared! Here’s my take on it having already been there, done that. My three girls are adults now and yes, we ended up doing this a couple of times…with different fellows. Would I do it again? Absolutely not! First off, none of them are with the fellows that came on vacation with us. They are married to different people. At the time, we went back and forth and endured the sulking, pouting, the “why not” and “what’s the big deal.” We thought, let’s try it, we’ll be the cool parents. Regrets! It is a big deal. Family vacation is meant to be with immediate family or whoever you’ve included in the vacation time. When you bring friends into it, it changes the dynamics. You know longer are the family unit, you become the “watch dog.” Making sure they stay within the boundaries you’ve established (be careful with this one) even the best teens are sneaky teens. There are financial stipulations that get confusing. Most of all, you really are not together as a family and that is the key. Vacations happen for many once a year, if that, and it should be a sacred time for families.. Teens will be going off to college, work, etc. so the time is very short you get to spend with them and them with their siblings. If they can’t be away from their friends for a week, then you may have to open the communication as to why. They need to understand the importance of quality time with one another. There friends will be there when they get back.

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks so much Michelle for your feedback. I agree with your point about how the family dynamic changes once a friend comes along. And, yes, if you are spending all of your vacation time on “high alert”…that is not fun either. You’ve given the rest of us lots of food for thought.

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